The Big Parade is a silent film that was released in 1925, a significant point in a tumultuous time period in the United States. The Great Depression was in full swing and attitudes about warfare and the government were widely negative across the American public. This film was revolutionary because it did not glorify World War I and did not ignore the human costs of warfare. This is exemplified by the lead characters loss of a leg from battle wounds.
The Big Parade was set in the United States in 1917 during World War I. James “Jim” Apperson’s idleness (in contrast to his hardworking brother) incurs the great disapproval of his wealthy businessman, factory owning father. Jim informs his worried mother that he has no intention of enlisting in the army to serve as a soldier in the war, and his father threatens to kick him out of the house if he does not join. However, when Jim happens to run into his patriotic friends at a send-off parade for the soldiers, he is persuaded to enlist, making his father very proud.
This issue in the film addresses the real-life issue of enlistment in the army during the time of World War I. Forced American patriotism and familial pressures pushed Jim into joining the army, not sincere patriotism or desire to serve. The film asks whether or not this is moral- requiring people to serve a cause that they don’t believe in or feel passionate about. The film also addresses the validity of patriotism. The title, the Big Parade, conveys images of pageantry and flashy shows. Jim found his false patriotism in the midst of the pomp and circumstance of the floats and exaggerated display of false patriotism. This environment was almost intoxicating; convincing Jim to, in a sense, jump on the bandwagon of patriotic service.
Patriotism, as an idea, asserts that ones own country is better than all others and that it is right in all its actions. That concept is completely debunked in The Big Parade through Jim’s love of the French woman, Melisande, and the loss of his friends and leg in battle. Even though they cannot speak to one another because they only speak different languages, and even though they come from different cultural backgrounds, Melisande and Jim are madly in love. This love that transcends social and political boundaries serves as proof that no country or culture is truly better than any other. The Big Parade makes the point that we all humans share a singular human experience, regardless of our country of origin.
In loosing his leg and his friends in battles, Jim fully realizes the negative effects of warfare and is completely disenchanted with the idea. Each of his friends that died had a story and people that cared about him- each person mattered. The impact of the loss of human life was definitely realized in The Big Parade and allowed the American public to question the validity of war in general. This film asked the citizens of the United States to consider what they were really dying for.